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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"I was able to examine the body while police were taking witness arias."
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March 18 2016

Joss Whedon and Shawnee Kilgore's single is now available to buy. 'Back to Eden' is available on Amazon's Digital Music store and Google Play. ETA: And Joss himself has posted in the comments section.

Sounds like a saloon song from a lost episode of Firefly.

(ETA: It's dark and pained so, yeah, I'm into it.)

(ETfurtherA: I can't tell if that's a steel guitar, theremin, or sampled soul wailing.)

[ edited by Pointy on 2016-03-18 19:08 ]
It's a saw. WHUT yes we are on the - wait for it - cutting edge of music (police enter, force me to give up writing)
I was going to buy it, but if bad punning is a result... ;)
Dark, a little painful.. we're home. Great song.

Jed made an album and there's a song by Zack on it.. I'm starting to feel like I'm listening to people's heads this week which is both creepy and nice. Hold me.
Hi Joss :). Lovely to see you post here as always.
Sounds good. And thank you for identifying the saw... I would have wondered.
A saw! That works too many ways. Somewhere George Martin smiles a restrained British smile and nods.

I was inspired to do a lazy morning's take on Rap Genius that I'll call Pop Magpie. (If anyone hears the lyrics I missed or mistook, please add a comment.)

Back to Eden

There’s a blackbird [1] on the bar picking cherries [2] from a tin
There’s a scream of daylight [3] every time the door swings someone in [4]
There’s a gleaming copper pool of warm can wash away my sin [5]

If I ask where I went wrong I hear a thousand voices yell [6]
The air itself will clamor and the ground begin to swell [7]
I’ll never sleep in silence but I mean to live to tell [8]

So raise your glass and your voice in song [9]
Gonna drink me Back to Eden [10] ’fore too long [11]

I rolled in with my misdeeds, my remorse, my fears and doubts
Such a crowd we need a bouncer or the walls’ll buckle out [12]
But redemption is [upended] and comes singing through that spout

To drown these ghosts and end their moan
Gonna drink me Back to Eden all alone [13]

I know how you all look at me
I grow tired of what I can’t be [14]
I glow [why doesn't] someone see
I glow. I glow. [15]

When I get back to the garden I’ll be silent and serene
I will lay my ageless nakedness upon the whispering green
There’s no snake can show me anything I ain’t already seen [16]

So wave goodbye and cry, “Amen!”
Gonna drink me Back to Eden once again [17]

So wave goodbye and cry, “Amen!”
Gonna drink me Back to Eden once again [18]

[1] Symbol of death spotted third word in. I like this movie already.

[2] Cherries are the only sweetness on offer in this saloon, and the deathbird is consuming them.

[3] “Scream of daylight.” Just as April is the cruelest month to a poet who can’t feel reborn, daylight arrives with a scream for a singer seeking refuge in oblivion. I think.

[4] “the door swings someone in.” The verb gives the door more volition than the someones.

[5] Egad, is this a reference to a spittoon? Does the singer feel spat upon by life, or deserving of life’s spittle? Spirit of David Bowie, descend and give the singer a hug.

ETA: If I haven’t severely misunderstood this line—IOW, if it is actually a reference to a spittoon—then the singer is the opposite of the hope of having sin washed away in baptism, and hopes instead for a particularly demeaning form of condemnation. (So it would be really funny if I misunderstood this line. “It’s about a nice hot toddy, Pointy!”) WhyIWatch thinks it may be a reference to a glass of whiskey or bourbon, which sounds more reasonable.

[6] “A thousand voices yell.” This bar has wifi, the singer has social media accounts. OK, it could just be the traditional internal chorus of condemnation that gives voice to self-loathing, but I’m feeling Twitter.

[7] Clamoring air and swelling ground are nicely apocalyptic.

[8] Does “I’ll never sleep in silence” mean that the singer cannot sleep due to self-hounding voices, or that the singer is not contemplating suicide out of fear that death would not bring silence, would not cease the clamoring chorus of condemnation? If the latter, then: New Level of Despair Unlocked.

[9] The chorus arrives and we realize that this is a drinking song. If I recall correctly (a Pop Magpie need not look things up), Joss admires Stephen Sondheim for writing songs that are about the kind of songs they are. This song takes the form of a barroom singalong, and it is about such songs, I think.

The ideal drinking song celebrates community while creating it, combining disparate individual voices into a strong, unified chorus. It might put the spotlight on one member of the group, say Mario Lanza, for a solo, but even that individual expression affirms the values of the group (in this case romantic love and its joys).

The bar in The Student Prince is clean and orderly, its patrons uniformly well-dressed, clean-shaven, and pleasant, and the group gladly welcomes a new member into its ranks. Never been to Germany myself, but I’m not sure it always works this way.

Another famous drinking song/show tune, “L’chaim” from Fiddler on the Roof, hints at an underlying darkness beneath the drinking song’s surface bonhomie. Lines like “it takes a wedding to make us say/let’s live another day” suggest the singers need a reason to celebrate in part because they have so many conspicuous reasons not to. They raise a glass “to life” because they are haunted by death.

The singers of “L’chaim,” Russian Jews who will be forced by Cossacks to flee their shtetl before the final curtain, manage despite their circumstances to make merrier than the singer of “Back to Eden.” They have an external enemy (one that is momentarily charmed enough by their celebration to join in it and express a wish for peace); the singer of “Back to Eden” has a chorus of internal enemies, one that cannot be charmed or escaped. The singer is not trying to create community or reinforce shared values; the reference to “my sin” suggests that the values the singer has were traduced before the song began. The singer does not imagine forming a community with the other someones in the bar. At most, they can toast the singer slipping out of their world, temporarily. But perhaps the singer does not want the other people in the bar to join in the chorus; perhaps the song’s chorus is addressed to the chorus of condemning voices in the singer’s head.

[10] “Gonna drink me back to Eden.” Like many great choruses, this one raises a question by making a seemingly simple, declarative statement. What does it mean to drink yourself back to Eden? In Eden, we were innocent of sin. The singer wishes to be innocent of “my sin.” Alcoholic oblivion is a sorry substitute for a state of innocence. The singer asks the chorus to celebrate a project that’s doomed to fail.

[11] “’fore too long” sounds like “for too long.” That works, too. Back off, Pun Police, you have no authority here!

From there it gets darker and more painful, so I’m taking a break. Beautiful creation, Joss Whedon and Shawnee Kilgore, and thank you for it!

ETA more numbers in more brackets and revise [5].

ETfurtherA the lyrics I missed the first time, now available to all at

[ edited by Pointy on 2016-03-22 03:09 ]

[ edited by Pointy on 2016-10-08 15:02 ]

And thank *you* Pointy for what you just did right there because it's awesome.
Thank you, jcs!

Behold the saw in its saw case . . . and saw player Janeen Heller along with singer/composer/saw aficionado Shawnee.
Imagine getting that through airport security ...
One more Pop Magpie flyby:

[12] “I rolled in with . . . Such a crowd.” The singer contains multitudes; apparently they’re forming a lynch mob.

Having set the scene and established that this is a drinking song, the singer turns the genre on its head. All of the drinking song’s comforting elements become sources of torment.
Sure, the singer rolls with a crowd so big the room can barely contain it, but it’s a crowd of misdeeds, remorse, fear and doubt. Not a group that the singer wants to belong to, but a mob the singer can’t shake, especially since it dwells in the singer’s head, and is only “saying” what the singer is thinking. This crowd doesn’t form a community of support; it relentlessly subjects the singer to invisible, perpetual denunciation. Drinking isn’t a way to bond with the crowd, but to silence it, to “drown these ghosts and end their moan.”

The ghostly moan is beautifully evoked by Janeen Heller on the saw. A real, actual saw. You do the metaphor.

[13] “Gonna drink me Back to Eden all alone.” Instead of being able to take comfort in singing with a group, the singer hopes only for solitude, somehow, from crowding thoughts. “Back to Eden” is a singalong that wants to be alone. Another great inversion of the genre, form perfectly ill-suiting emotional content.

[14] “I know how you all look at me/I grow tired of what I can’t be.” If the ideal drinking song affirms common values by celebrating them, this one does so only by lamenting the singer’s inability to live up to them. Weep, O drinking songs, ye shall never be the same.

[15] The singer doesn’t claim to shine, merely to glow. Like an ember of a dying fire? (I’m missing some key words, so I’m not sure.)

[16] The most hopeful verse in the song underlines the singer’s hopelessness, and does so biblically. The singer imagines becoming like Adam and Eve before the Fall, back when they had no knowledge of good and evil, and were therefore incapable of sin, being so perfectly innocent that they couldn’t even grasp the concept.

I’m not sure whether the singer is religious or merely remembering a bible story. The lyricist, as we all know, is an atheist who writes both religious and non-religious characters with subtlety, empathy and understanding. What I’m saying is, the singer’s grasp of religion may be shaky, but the songwriter’s is sure.

The singer yearns for something more than religion offers—namely, to enter a prelapsarian state. (I love using “namely” and then a really first-class name.) Conventional religion offers forgiveness of sin, not the erasure of the entire concept of sin from the sinner’s consciousness. The song knows this (if “no snake can show me anything I ain’t already seen,” that means the singer cannot un-see “my sin”—cannot drink away knowledge of good and evil) even if the singer is trying to forget.

The singer’s theological (and possibly alcoholic) blur is the song’s emotional clarity. The singer is so burdened with guilt as to be beyond the customary consolations of faith. The listener is left to wonder at a guilt so great it makes the guilty wish not only to turn back the clock to a time before “my sin,” but to the time before any sin, before history began.

[17] “So wave goodbye and cry, ‘Amen!’” The two simple commands in that sentence raise lots of intriguing/depressing questions regarding all the different meanings waving goodbye and saying Amen can have in this context. With uncharacteristic restraint, I won’t enumerate them.

The “once again” at the end of the chorus lets us know that the singer has tried this before and knows alcoholic paradise will be lost before long.

[18] In the last chorus, the singer gains a measure of solitude. Shawnee Kilgore sings it without overdubs. The singer is alone at last, no longer accompanied or hounded by the critical voices that are all the singer’s own.

The song almost ends then, but the wailing saw won’t stop. The accompaniment returns. Was the singer’s yearning for silence unfulfilled? Seems like, since the singer’s voice goes away for the last minute of the song, while the ghostly moan of the saw takes a fucking solo. Numfar, do the Dance of Kill Me Now. (The saw is like an Alan Rickman movie villain: every appearance is awesome and a sure sign that something bad is going down.) The moan ceases, at last, in the final moments, leaving the strings to accompany . . . nothing. The ending sounds nevertheless sounds consoling to me—sad, but beautifully sad.

Limited consolation. For a couple of seconds, the ghost is gone, but then so is the song.

So is this “The Saddest Song in the World” from Sugarshock? A montage song for the lost web series, Wastelanders? The lament of a cowpoke tormented by The First?

Maybe it’s the drinking song to end all drinking songs, a genre-busting art bomb like The Cabin in the Woods. Both stories turn on genres failing to work their trusty magic. Shawnee Kilgore’s musical setting seems simple and traditional, and it’s lovely all by itself. Her music is also a warrant that the singer isn’t trying to subvert the tropes. That’s why it hurts when the song does the opposite of what a song like this is supposed to do, and the consoling tropes turn increasingly lacerating.

Although Back to Eden is a song of self-loathing, it inspires love—or at least empathy—for the suffering singer. The singer’s sense of guilt is so overwhelming that it provokes listener pushback. Can someone who feels this guilty be that bad? It may help that we have no clue what “my sin” is. We’re aware only of the suffering the singer feels, not the suffering the singer may or may not have inflicted. It may also help that Shawnee Kilgore’s voice conveys innocence and vulnerability, even when singing lyrics that would work for Clint Eastwood’s character after the final reel of Unforgiven. The song makes a connection by letting us listen in on a soul yearning to disconnect.

Brilliant and moving, Joss Whedon and Shawnee Kilgore! Looking forward to more. (No that's not a threat to continue footnoting. Rest easy.)

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